The 25-year-old Army private behind one of the largest U.S. military and diplomatic document leaks was acquitted of aiding the enemy by the judge of a military court-martial.
After three days of deliberation, Bradley Manning was not convicted of the most serious of the Espionage Act-related charges levied against him. Had he been found guilty, he faced a possible life sentence without parole.
Instead, he was found guilty of six espionage counts, five theft charges, a computer fraud charge and other military infractions.
“It’s a sliver of good news that Manning was found not guilty of aiding the enemy,” Trevor Timm, executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, said. “It would have had future implications on future whistleblowers and national security reporting.”
Still, Timm said that he was very concerned that Manning was found guilty of other charges under the Espionage Act. He felt it was clear that Manning’s intent was to inform the public and not to cause harm. Furthermore, the government did not prove that Manning’s actions lead to any negative actions towards the U.S.
“It definitely is a dark day for whistleblowers in the U.S.,” Timm concluded.
Michael Kohn, president of the National Whistleblowers Center, also expressed concern over the use of the Espionage Act. He said the U.S. government was “pushing the envelope” when it alleged that Manning was acting as a spy, especially because he was just revealing information to the public about why the U.S. was at war and what they were doing.
“What you have is a situation where an individual is faced with doubts that the country is doing the right thing. At the some point, individual acts of conscience need to be protected, and that’s what the First Amendment is about,” he said.
Kohn added that Manning may have made wrong choices and acted rashly, and he probably did not think of the long term consequences. However, these actions did not amount to espionage.
“America is the beacon of whistleblower protection in the world, and if we fall down and we engage in ways that the world population would want to take a step back from being part of the Renaissance of bringing information forward, then we have stumbled,” he said.
Captain Glenn Sulmasy, chariman of the humanities department and professor of law at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, disagreed. Sulmasy argued that Manning leaked information pertinent to national security and was appropriately charged.
“The key here is deterrence,” he said. “As technology increases and access to info increases, governments must be ever mindful of preventing leaks such as this. The U.S. and others need to be clear there is no tolerance for leaks as outrageous as those performed by private first class Manning.”
Sulmasy, who is also a Homeland and National Security Law Fellow at the Center for National Policy in Washington D.C., said he supported the judge’s decision. It was a heavy burden for the prosecution to prove that Manning’s actions had provided information that any enemies could have used to their advantage, and they were unable to do so.
“He should have been convicted on all counts, but the judge has ruled and I remain a strong believer in the courts-martial system,” he said. “The U.S. system is fair and justice had been served.”
Manning’s sentencing hearing will being on Wednesday.